Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) became the nation’s first female speaker of the House eight years ago. On Thursday, she regains the gavel — and with it, becomes the most powerful woman in American politics once again.
Amid the partial government shutdown, now in its second week, Pelosi’s position as an adversary to President Trump has never been more obvious. In an interview with The Washington Post, she said:
In recent weeks, navigating talks over the president’s demand for money for a U.S.-Mexico border wall has defined Pelosi’s dealings with Trump in the new era of divided government.
When she entered the Oval Office on Dec. 11 for a meeting with Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Pelosi, 78, had a phrase in mind that she planned to use in private — “Trump shutdown.”
She did not realize she would deliver that line in front of television cameras. The world watched as the president interrupted her after she uttered those words at the outset of a wild 15-minute exchange: “Did you say ‘Trump’?”
Moments later, Pelosi urged him to kick out the media and proceed with private talks more befitting, in her view, the stakes and the setting.
The needling, aided by Schumer, paid political dividends after Trump proclaimed at the end of the meeting that he was “proud to shut down the government for border security” — words that have been shown on a seemingly endless loop as the president deals with the damage.
Shortly after leaving the meeting, Pelosi told a private gathering of fellow Democrats that the wall was a “like a manhood thing” for Trump, a comment seemingly calibrated to unnerve the president — and promptly and widely leaked to the media.
Below is a collection of thoughts from Pelosi — and others’ about her — as the politician retakes the gavel.
Pelosi on Trump: “We have to stipulate to a set of facts if we’re going to ever negotiate. But he simply won’t do it. What he talks about with the wall isn’t true. It isn’t true about terrorists coming over the wall, people with illnesses flooding the country. I mean, really?”
Beyond the factual divide, Pelosi says she sees in Trump a lack of “shared values about our country” and belief in governance, as well as a “disrespect for the dignity and worth of a person.”
Yet she still speaks routinely — if somewhat mechanically — about her desire to work in tandem with Trump on issues of mutual interest, that she would seek to “light the way” and “extend the hand of friendship.”
Pelosi on “manhood”: Pelosi denied trying to openly needle Trump by calling the wall a matter of “manhood” — something she did publicly in an October appearance at Harvard University before she repeated it privately to Democrats last month.
“I don’t think he has any concern about that. He likes publicity, good or bad, doesn’t he?” she said.
Pelosi on the shutdown: Pelosi declared House Democrats would vote Thursday to reopen the government without funding the wall — on Republican-written legislation, a move orchestrated to isolate Trump and split the GOP around him. “We’re asking the president to open up government,” Pelosi said. “We are giving him a Republican path to do that. Why would he not do it?”
Pelosi on former president George W. Bush: “He was a Republican, I’m a Democrat,” she said of Bush. “We differed on a woman’s right to choose, the war in Iraq, those kinds of things. But in our negotiations we recognized certain facts.”
Trump on Pelosi: “I like her. Can you believe it? I like Nancy Pelosi. I mean, she’s tough and she’s smart,” Trump said after the midterm elections, when Democrats recaptured the House with a 40-seat gain. Later, he offered to solicit Republican votes when she was struggling to persuade Democrats to elect her speaker.
On Pelosi’s ability to manage House Democrats: Trump’s allies in the White House and on Capitol Hill are fond of pointing out — and potentially exploiting — the difficulties Pelosi will probably have managing her caucus’s aggressive left flank. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), for instance, tweeted criticism of Democratic leaders Monday over the makeup of a special climate-change committee and Wednesday announced she would vote against rules changes backed by Pelosi.
But Pelosi has more experience managing those dynamics than they might realize. Former congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a leader of the Democratic antiwar bloc, said Pelosi skillfully managed that aggressive faction while she was sparring with Bush over Iraq.
“Nancy did not lead it, but she never got in our way,” she said. In one instance, Pelosi rejected the idea of Woolsey and others inviting Tom Hayden, a controversial former student radical, to Capitol Hill.
Woolsey said Pelosi was right, as Hayden’s presence “would have been the story instead of what we were really aiming to accomplish.”